One of the things we fight the most—whether we are on a diet or not—is that urge to eat something sweet every once in a while (or all day long!). The reason for this is that our bodies are asking us for energy. Keeping our energy levels stable throughout the day is one of the most difficult challenges we face in our fast-paced and stressful lives.

To defeat our urges for sugar, we need to understand that a food craving is usually either the body’s cry for nutrients (not the need for ice cream or chocolate) or an emotional issue coming to the surface.

Not all sugars are the same. When sugar is digested, it becomes glucose, our cells’ primary source of energy. The rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream depends on the type of sugar consumed.

Carbohydrates that are highly processed, refined sugars are the ones that enter the bloodstream almost immediately after ingestion. They create a “sugar rush” that is always followed by an equally fast crash. Examples of these carbohydrates include table sugar, candy, sodas, and white flour. Comfort foods in this category, like cookies, cakes and ice cream, have a relaxing effect because of the dopamine that is released in the body. Dopamine can calm you down in a few minutes, and if you are an emotional eater, well, you will definitely want some more of it.

Fruits also contain a sugar, fructose, but its absorption into the body is slower because of the fiber in the fruit. That is why it is better to eat the fruit rather than drink its juice. If you love juices, try making them in a juicer that preserves the vitamins and leaves out the additional sugar of processed juices, but I recommend you stick to the whole fruit.

Vegetables and whole grains are another type of carbohydrates, called complex carbohydrates. These work very differently in the body than the ones mentioned above. Complex carb foods have high amounts of fiber, so the carbohydrates are released into the bloodstream slowly, allowing the sugars to be absorbed at a steady rate over many hours, resulting in long-lasting energy.

FROM WHICH GROUP ARE YOU GETTING MOST OF YOUR SUGARS?

Here are some helpful tips to avoid, or at least reduce, the sugars in the first group:

Try to eat fruits such as berries, grapes, or an apple instead of candy when you feel the need to eat something sweet.

Drink mineral water with lemon instead of a soda.

Find healthy snacks such as nuts, carrots, hummus, celery sticks, or yogurt to replace junk foods.

If you are an emotional eater, try thinking about the source of your stress or problems and do something about it instead of eating your way out, which will only make you feel worse in the end.

Dehydration can be often confused with hunger. Drink a glass of water before eating anything, as you may find that it’s enough.

Be conscious about your choices and always ask yourself: Do I really need this? Am I really hungry? Most of the time, these questions have a negative answer.

Your body is very smart, and there is a reason for everything it asks from you, but there is always a healthy choice to supply it the nutrients it needs. Once you start making these healthier choices, your blood sugar will stabilize and provide you energy throughout the day, and your sugar cravings will eventually give in. You may just be surprised (and happy) to find yourself wanting to eat veggies for your mid-morning snack.

By Carolina Martinez
Certified Health Coach at Institute for Integrative Nutrition.